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THE SCHOLAR CONSIDERS:
An Interview With Boxing Historian Herbert G. Goldman
In which the expert insists that the average modern boxer whips the tar out of the average old-timer, and provides reasoned arguments on other interesting questions.
By Katherine Dunn
The eminent boxing historian Herbert G. Goldman is a serious City guy with formal manners and the scholarly dignity of the middle of the last century. Heís a Homburg and somber suit guy; a throwback to newsreel eras when "Mister" came before every manís name.
In a sport obsessed by its own historical context, Mr. Goldman is known for his meticulously researched and sometimes controversial articles on boxing history. He is also the Chair of the Nominations Committee for the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canestota, New York. As managing editor of The Ring magazine through the late 70ís and most of the 1980ís, he edited three editions of the famed Ring Record Book and Encyclopedia, including the acclaimed 1986-1987 edition. In 1987 he moved to Boxing Illustrated, becoming editor in chief in 1995 and remaining there until 1999 when it became Boxing Digest.
But Herbert G. Goldman leads two, seemingly opposed, scholarly lives. He is also a respected historian and biographer of the American theater. Mr. Goldman was born in Rockaway, a section of the borough of Queens in New York City on Sept. 11, 1950. His family was involved in the wholesale and retail shoe business. Mr. Goldman credits his grandfather-- a fight fan and enthusiastic observer of American popular cultureówith his first exposure to what would become his dual passions; boxing and the theater. .Goldmanís dusky baritone has the precise diction and round tone of stage-training for good reason. He studied acting from the age of 13 on, graduated from the New York High School of the Performing Arts, and took his bachelors degree and, in 1974, his Masters degree from Brooklyn College in the history and criticism of the theater. He played various roles in musical comedies from the early to mid 1970ís and in the last 14 years has written three definitive biographies of classic stage and screen stars. In 1988 he published "Al Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life." "Fannie Bryce:the Original Funny Girl," appeared in 1992. In 1997 the award winning "Banjo Eyes: Eddie Cantor and the Birth of Modern Stardom" appeared. All three books were published by the prestigious Oxford University Press.
In the following interview, Mr. Goldman discusses many topics including: the long term impact of the Ring ratings scandal of the 1970ís, his revolutionary approach to the last and best Ring Record Book, mob influence on boxing, how the old-timers would fare against modern boxers, the current condition of the sport, and much more.
THEATER & BOXING
HG--.A lot of people do find it odd that I have these interests in the theater and boxing, because they seem to be so disparate today. But at one time they were not. For instance, two of the biggest producers on Broadway in the first half of the twentieth century, William A. Brady and Sam H. Harris, managed world champion fighters. Bill Brady managed James J. Corbett and James J. Jeffries. And Sam H Harris actually began his career in entertainment as the manager of Terry McGovern.
KD -- I guess it can be said that boxing is a part of the entertainment businessÖ
HG -- Boxing is a part of the entertainment business. Iíd say all sports are in a round about way. But boxingís association with show business, with the theater, is very pronounced. Now today it survives, Iíd say more than anywhere else, in the motion picture industry. Youíll find well known movie stars at ringside at important fights today. Many years ago the live stage had a close association with boxing. Which it no longer does. Itís culturally changed a great deal and it no longer is a part of the main stream of show business today. Itís sort of a self-contained world.
And I quickly became aware of this when I was a child. I think it was a great influence on me. I drank at the well of knowledge in both these fields as well as I could.
KD -- So did your interest in boxing begin as early as your interest in show business?
HG -- The theater actually was my first love, and I think to a large extent remains such. But my grandfather was very interested in boxing. In 1920, when the Walker Law legalizing boxing in New York State was passed, my grandfather became the manager of a fighter. He was at that point still in his teens. I donít know the fightersí name. I wish I did. I do know that the fighter and my grandfather both had one fight, the latter as manager, the former as fighter. And the fighter was knocked out in the first round and that was the end of my grandfathersí career as a fight manager. But he retained an interest in the fight game. And I was sort of aware of this by osmosis rather than anything else.
I think this was awakened when I became a rabid fight fan one evening. In fact I can give you the exact date: Friday evening, November 1, 1963. I was sort of channel hopping, which was occasionally done in those days too. And I happened to come upon the Friday Night Fights on ABC television. Florentino Fernandez versus Rocky Rivero. It was just coming on and I was intrigued by the atmosphere of it. I remember Don Dunphy interviewing Rocky Graziano about Rocky Rivero. I remember the fight. I remember Rivero scoring one knockdown on the way to a unanimous decision over Fernandez. I was hooked. I was hooked.
KD -- You were a young teenager at that point, werenít you?
HG -- Just thirteen years old. I had seen a documentary on Louis, Joe Louis, called "In This Corner, Joe Louis," about one year before that. Maybe this whetted my appetite. It was a wonderful documentary. I havenít seen it since. Iíd love to get ahold of it. But this was when it really, suddenly, took hold. I became overnight the most rabid boxing fan. I bought all the magazines. I was a little bit too young to go to the fights at that time. And I really did not miss a Friday Night Fight if I could possibly help it. I began to go through the almanac and look at lists of world champions of the past. I became overnight a fanatic. And that was the beginning of my association with the fight game.
KD -- In both the theater and boxing youíve become a scholar and a historian, which has to be a demanding and rigorous discipline to apply.
HG -- Thereís no doubt that becoming a historian is certainly the most time consuming thing. If done well I think one can becomeÖ.you must read incessantly. You have to analyze. Itís a bit of a compulsion. No doubt about that. When I was a boy I had trouble of certain sorts. I had trouble with coordination. I wanted to play sports. I wanted to very much. I couldnít . Iíve since become aware that I had a condition, have it, I guess, but it was more pronounced when I was younger, called dyskinesia. Itís a neurological condition afffecting coordination. Also affects certain scholastic processes. For instance I had great trouble in algebra. To this day I couldnít factor if you put a gun to my head. And in those days there were other fields too. Conversely there were other fields-- History, English-- where I was exceptional. But these academic troubles were horrendous for me at the time. So as a result of that and other factors I just retreated into a world of my own where I just read and researched intensively. The funny thing is in regard to my theatrical studies I didnít become a fanatic reseacher until my late teens and then in my early twenties I started to do original research like crazy. Itís been a big, big part of my life ever since. Going through early trade papers, interviewing people, doing compilations, and so on. Itís occupied more of my life than it really should have. And Iím very cognizant of that, which is why at this point Iím trying to make a lot of changes.
KD -- You must have been very young when you went to work at The Ring. Was that your first real job?
HG -- Outside of the theater actually it was. Iíd worked for my father in his footwear businesses intermittently when I was going to school. But I was second lead in the sequel to "Hair," and I was in stock. I had an agent, an equity franchise agent. Itís a whole long story. But anyway when I was 27 my agent had his troubles and he gave up his franchise. I was told I was a "bad type" quote-unquote. And I also was severely handicapped in that I did not sing or dance as such. I did comedy roles, especially in musical comedy, but I did not actually sing or dance. The idea of a comedian in musical comedy is passe by now. Anyway, I left the theater in 1977 and in February of 1978, February 6 to be exact, in the midst of a blizzard, I started working at Ring Magazine.
HIRING ON AT THE RING: THE RING RATINGS SCANDAL
KD -- How did that happen? Youíd been reading Ring as a fan and scholar?
HG -- I had been a fight fan then for almost fifteen years. For a layman I had a very good knowledge of the history of boxing and so forth, and I needed a job. I did not want to be a teacher. I wanted a less violent profession than teaching, so I went into the sedate world of professional boxing.
KD -- 1978, that must have been a hurly-burly year at Ring magazine. There was the Ring ratings scandal. HG -- I came in there, yes, in the wake of the championship boxing tournament which had been thrown off ABC in 1977. Nat Loubet was the publisher and editor of the magazine, and John Ort was the associate editor, who was really in charge of the boxing. Mr. Loubet was more interested in the business end of things. It was alleged that The Ring, at the very least, was a very faulty record keeper. And at the worst was a rather corrupt organization. The tournament was thrown off the air.
KD -- My understanding is that there were allegations that John Ort had sold Ring ratings particularly for the benefit of Don King's tournament at that time.
HG -- Ring at that time was involved officially in the tournament. The tournament was using fighters rated by The Ring in their U.S. ratings, which they had instituted a couple of years before that. It was alleged that certain fighters managed by certain managers friendly to Mr. Ort were given preference in the tournament. It was also alleged that certain fighters who were completely unqualified were pushed into the tournament, after their records were completely falsified. Among these records was that of Mr. Ike Fluellen, who was apparently given two phony fights in Mexico. [Fluellen was] a Jr. middleweight, a journeyman fighter who hadnít fought in 2 years. And all of a sudden two phony fights appeared and he appeared in the Ring Ratings and he was pushed up to a point where at one time he was Number 3 in the Jr. middleweight ratings of the U.S. according to Ring Magazine.
There were some uglier allegations that amounted to alleged attempts at extortion. You know, unless we have a piece of your fighter he doesnít get into the U.S. Tournament. Certain managers of fighters like Marvin Hagler, according to what I was told, were approached in that fashion. These were all allegations. Nonetheless, when a fighter named Scott LeDoux failed to receive a decision over a fighter named Johnny Boudreaux in a heavyweight bout in the tournament, it sort of blew sky high.
A renegade boxing journalist named Flash Gordon had been screaming in print about the tournament and what was going on, and all of a sudden the whole thing blew. ABC requested copies of the Ring Record Book of 1977. They went through it and within 24 hours the tournament was thrown off the air. It was an ignominious defeat for Ring Magazine. Ring's sales had declined sharply back in 1962 and they had been on the down-slide ever since. This was to be a great comeback for them. Quite the reverse, It was a humiliating, ignominious defeat.
It had repercussions beyond Ring itself. It was this tournament and Ringsí disgrace therein , which lead to the increased prominence and power of the world sanctioning bodies because TV, and pointedly ABC, turned to the sanctioning bodies in terms of identifying who was who, what was a championship fight, and so on. It was in 1978, of course that Ken Norton, the proclaimed WBC champion lost his title to Larry Holmes on ABC. And of course Holmes went on to defend the title on that same network multiple times. This really gave prominence to the WBC and lead more or less to the dominance of the world sanctioning bodies and the world of boxing as we have it today.
KD -- You mentioned the boxing journalist, Flash Gordon. What became of him?
HG-- Itís funny. He was out there for close to 20 years as a renegade boxing journalist publishing his own programs and record books and so forth. After the 80ís he finally just gave it up. For a while I heard he was going to bring out big posters listing the legitimate world champions. He got to the point where he could not continenceÖfirst of all, even though he was a renegade, he was in some ways a very traditional guy regarding boxing. He did not accept 12 round world championship bouts. Things were becoming more difficult for him because heíd gone to regular printing rather than mimeograph, which was actually from his point of view probably a mistake. Between that and the changes in boxing he just gave it up. During the last twelve to 15 year period heís largely been doing other things. Itís a shame in a way. Had he been willing to have a slightly less militant stance and willing to work withóI donít say sell outóbut work with certain people, there would have been a place for him. But I will say this much, he never compromised his principles and I guess you can say that in him, boxing had the last hippie.
KD -- But it was immediately in the wake of that scandal and catastrophe that you went to work at Ring magazine.
HG -- I had been dropping up there. I couldnít wait to get the new magazine each month so I would drop up there and get it. I would take the subway in from Brooklyn College, in fact. I had spoken to Mr. Loubet. And he said ĎI like your mind." I think he liked the idea that I was into the history of boxing and was not what was called a Ďgym rat." I was hired when Mr. Loubetís daughter, Trudy, elected to leave the magazine in early í78. Mr. Loubet wanted somebody who was not that much of a fanatic on current day boxing. I certainly followed it very closely in a way. But I didnít hang around with fighters. I didnít hang around with their managers. And I wasnít going to be someone who was too much of a pain in the neck, especially regarding Mr. Ort. So Öbetween that and what he regarded as a quick mind, and also I was not someone who had any background not only in the business of boxing but in magazines. I was a clean slate. So I was hired.
KD -- At that point had Mr. Ort been fired?
HG -- No. He was still there. I was hired to replace Nat Loubetís daughter, Trudy. What was Trudysí job? Production. In practical terms that meant editing and physically putting out the magazine. And thatís what I was hired for in February of í78, and trained to do. I had no previous background in magazine or any kind of editorial production in my life.
KD -- Had they a training program for you?
HG -- (laughs ) There was no training program at Ring at that time. You have to understand this was a small mom and pop store at that point. It was even nowhere as large asÖif I may digress, going up to Ring in 1964 when it was still in the old Madison Square Garden at 50th and 8th, I climbed the stairs and I was confronted with what looked like a large city room out of "The Front Page". Remember that film? And Mr. Fleischer was still spry at that time, and was briskly walking around. I remember him pausing briefly and looking at me and shaking his head and going about his business.
KD -- You were like 14 years old at the time.
HG -- Thatís right. And by the time I went to work there, roughly 13-14 years later, it was at 31st street. It was very sparsely populated. And it was a bare bones operation. This is what I stepped into. I had no previous background in this business outside of being a fan who read as well as he could on the history of boxing. I worked out of a fairly large office room in the back of the establishment with Nat Loubetís daughter, Trudy. And there was a man who came in, in the beginning just about every day, and had his own little part of a desk in the office, named Sam Taub. I was 27. Mr. Taub was 91. This should have told me something about Ringsí retirement plan. He was still working there. He was actually retired. He had been a famous boxing ringside commentator on radio for many years. He wrote a column which appeared in each issue called "Up and Down Old Broadway." He received nominal payment for this. He came in to answer his mail and ensconce himself. He took the subway in from Brooklyn every day. He was born 64 years and one day prior to myself. He was born September 10, 1886. Sam had started at the old New York Morning Telegraph in 1908. He worked with a former Western lawman who had become the Sunday boxing columnist. The manís name was Bat Masterson. So Sam went from Bat Masterson to me, and boy am I beginning to feel old.
That was my start at Ring. I was trainedÖOn the job training is certainly a mild way of putting it. How to put out the magazine. I was not given any great background, it was just Ďhere, this is what we do..boom, boom, boom, boom.í I had very little understanding initially of the processes. It was only somewhat later I was able to figure out what this whole thing was really about. I gradually improved at the job, til at the end of a year and a half I was getting fairly proficient. And thatís when the magazine was abruptly sold. And my function there changed dramatically. I still retained the title of managing editor but now I was no longer doing production as such. I was involved more in the editorial field.
KD -- This was when the magazine was sold to Bert Sugar?
HG -- The magazine was sold to Mr. Sugar and his backersóchiefly Mr. Nicholas Kladis of Chicago and Mr. David DeBusschere (the basketball player for Detroit and then the New York Nicks), then of New York City. Bert had his own ideas about production. He had a young Frenchman named Richard Kubicz who came in and became art director. We did not previously have an art director as such. Although we did have a man at the New York Daily News who used to do dummy layouts for us. It was a different production process now under Richard Kubicz. My job became historical articles and, on a more practical day-to-day basis, I was in charge of what we termed Ďthe agate." Agate is a newspaper term for a certain small typeface. And this is what the correspondentsí reports were set in. I was in charge of assembling these into a section each month. I devised a plan whereby the agate, which had previously been strewn all through the back of the magazine, was now a separate section in a geographic and alphabetic order.
It was an interesting job in a way, and Mr Sugar was certainly an interesting person. The magazine was more in the mainstream of the boxing business. More fight people came up to the office. Mr. Sugar was a very gregarious person. Heís a very entertaining individual across a barroom table. And we started losing money like crazy because he spent a great deal of money there. Certainly in ratio to Mr. Loubet. In fact going to Bert Sugar from Nat Loubet as Publisher and Editor of the magazine, reminded me of the young ensign in "The Caine Mutiny," who goes from Captain DeVries, I think his name was, to Captain Queeg. The former is a very catch-as-catch-can kind of Captain. Not a stickler for dress and so forth. And then Captain Queeg comes in, who every button must be in place. At Ring it was going from a man who was very interested in the bottom line to a man who was interested in anything but. Who was interested in the editorial aspect of the magazine. The advertising. It was a 180 degree turn. And I was able to work under both men. That I will say.
KD -- An achievement.
GHóLooking back at the differences between the two men, in a way it was.
THE RING RECORD BOOK AND BOXING ENCYCLOPEDIA
KD -- You took over the editing of the Ring Record Book and Encyclopedia. When was that? 1984?
HG -- 1983, actually. The í84 edition was my first. Mr. Sugar was expelled by his backers in November of í83. Randy Gordon became Editor of Ring magazine at that time. I became Editor of the Ring Record Book. I had been historical editor of the Ring Record Book from the time Bert came in. I was in charge of revamping the Championsí records. And I worked on this fairly extensively. I was doing charts on these world title fights. Those were my idea. I had done one on the light heavyweight championship bouts before Mr. Sugar came in. Mr. Loubet was going to publish this. Then Mr. Sugar came in, took a look at it, he liked it. I had written an accompanying story. And that was in the first issue edited by Mr. Sugar. It was something they hadnít had before so it was part of this new look.
KD -- Can I ask about that process? What kind of sources do you use for determining early fights in a historical period?
HG -- These records of the old timers and records of the championship bouts are put together from newspaper sources. The commission results sheets that commissions have been sending out since at least the early 70ís, you didnít have those in the early period. So itís all done through daily newspapers. For example in these championship bout listings I wanted the referee of each fight, I wanted the weights, the venues. So I had to go through the clipping files we had at the magazine. And I had to augment this by increasingly going to newspapers on microfilm in libraries. As I started to do championship charts on other divisions I had to in some cases go to inter-library loans, and in some cases I had to go down to the Library of Congress. There was one trip Mr. Sugar allowed me to take where I spent a couple of nights in Washington and about three or even four days in the Library of Congress, just doing research. This has now grown. In the early 80ís, I and John Grasso, a man very much into the compilation of material on amateur boxing, co-founded an organization called IBRO, the International Boxing Research Organization. It still exists. It publishes a newsletter about once a month or so. And itís for the serious devotee vis-a-vis boxing history. I recommend it to anybody who has a deep interest in this. Because youíll find information there that you will not find anywhere else. Certain scholars who belong to the organization have continued to do research in this field and in many cases itís very extensive.
KD -- Is there a contact number or address where interested readers might get more information on the organization?
HG -- Yes, there is. The current head is Mr. Dan Cuoco and his post office box is 1072 in Billerica, Massachusetts 01821-1930. Iím sure Mr. Cuoco will not mind me giving this out. Thatís the official mailing address for IBRO. [Editorís note: Both Dan Cuoco and Tracy Callis of IBRO are contributing advisors for the CBZ. The CBZ also has a page for IBRO].
HG -- The Ring Record Book had been started in 1941 by Nat Fleischer. It had the records of world champions of the past plus selected retired boxers. That was roughly one half of the book. In the remaining half was certain encyclopedic material and records of current fighters. And I have to confess I had quite a job on me. The form was not what it should have been at all. I revised the book and put it in different sections. Partly because it needed so much work from foreign correspondents and I wanted to expedite that. Also I found the old division into Eastern and Western hemispheres was out of date. The fight game had become much more international. Now of course they publish Mr. Mardersí book, Fight Fax, and the whole thing is in one section because computers now allow them to do this much more efficiently.
Anyway I (had different people in different parts of the world compiling records.) I had to a certain extent cut down the number of American fighters I covered, but it was a much more accurate book than it was before.
KD -- There was no Ring Book published in 1986, right?
HG -- That was because we were making the transition to doing our own typesetting in-house. There were some
computer glitches . KD -- Then you came out with the 86-87
HG -- The combined edition, 86-87
KD--Which many people consider the best Ring Record Book ever.
HG -- Iíve heard that. Iíve heard that copies are now selling for as high as 300 dollars on the internet. Of course I am right now engaged in the compilation of whatís going to be called "The All Time World Boxing Reference Book." This will have bout-by-bout record compilations on over 1,000 all-time greats. And a lot of other stuff too: registries of managers, promoters, all-time leaders. Histories of boxing throughout the world by continent, country, state. Thereíll be a timeline. A lot of other stuff, too. Boxing on television, radio, stuff that you really have not found elsewhere. My belief is that this is going to be the definitive reference book on the sport for years to come.
KD -- What an enormous task to undertake.
HG-- My sleeping patterns will never be the same again. Iím doing this stuff, it seems, in my sleep. Iím working through the night. I donít have regular days anymore and itís going to be like this for some months to come.
KD -- Going back to the Ď86-87 Record book, you made some pretty dramatic changes. You introduced the TKO to the Ring Record Book at that point.
HG -- The TKO is really an American designation. But the breaking down of knockouts into count-outs and RSCs.--.Referee Stops Contestóhas always been used in Britain. In Japan they do use the TKO in their record keeping. In Latin America the record keeping certainly breaks down stoppages into clean knockouts and things like TKOís or Retired Due to Injury and so forth. It was not done in the U.S. This was primarily because it had not been done prior to Mr. Fleischerís book. The old Everlast book had not done it, nor had the Post, nor had Tom Andrewsí books, nor the early Police Gazette books. So Mr. Fleischersí record keeping, or I should say, that of his staff, did not include TKOís. To a certain extent I could see this, because thereís a certain ambiguity in the TKO. Sometimes when the fighter is knocked cold but the referee does not elect to complete the count the fight would be announced as ending in a TKO. I consider a bout like that to be a KO. My designation is, if a boxer is floored for the ten count, or what would have been a ten count had the count continued, itís a clean knockout. But conversely I thought there has to be some difference between a fight that ended in say, the dramatic one punch knockout that Sugar Ray Robinson scored over Gene Fulmer, and a fight that is stopped because a fighter who was ahead on points is unfortunately retired due to a cut above an eye. The other change I madeÖand this applies specifically to the old timers and thereís been some controversy over this-- I put in newspaper decisions. Where in the old fights no decision was rendered. In certain states, chiefly in the Eastern part of the country, decisions were not permitted officially in the early part of the century. Especially in the 1910ís. In those days, bets were decided by the popular verdict as rendered by newspaper men. These were often published in almanacs as "P.V.ís" Popular verdicts. And I confess I was influenced by a great scholar in record keeping, Professor Luckett V. Davis, in this. But the final decision was made by me so I will take the rap. This applied to hundreds and hundreds of fights. And I donít think there should be a rap because I still believe in it and Iím continuing to do it in this current reference book. Which will include not only the champions but hundreds of other fighters with newspaper decisions. And weíre now able to do this for, Iíd say, 98 or 99 percent of all the fights. I think it adds a new dimension to things. Itís very frustrating with a man who fought in 1908 to 1917 or something like that. He will frequently have like 150 fights. And his record totals are given as like 3 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw, and 145 No Decision bouts. Thatís not giving you any indication of the fighter. Itís just a list of his fights with no results. "ND" by the way was not an officialÖthatís a record keepersí designation. In those days they simply left the ring without an official decision being given. What weíre doing is simply giving the newspaper verdicts of these fights, as determined by extensive research into the newspapers of that period. Iíd say roughly 75 or 80 percent or more of them are pretty decisive. There are some which are border-line cases. Of course official decisions are certainly the same way. Many of them do not go the way that one would think they should have. We have the option here of adjusting them, as best we can, to what we think of as a fair verdict. Thatís the newspaper decision. Weíre not altering official verdicts on fights.
LEAVING THE RING
KD -- Was the Ď86-87 Ring Record Book and Encyclopedia the last Ring Record Book?
HG -- It was the last Ring Record Book done. I left the magazine at that point. I hoped to become a free-lance author. Which I actually did. My Jolson book was sold in í87 and came out at that point, in 1988.
KD -- So all during the time you were putting together the Record Book you were also researching and writing
the Al Jolson book. HG -- Yes. "Jolson: the Legend Comes To Life." This was my life at that point. I was just really a professional researcher and editor. That was my personal and professional life at that point. And Mr. Sugar, who had been sort of ousted from Ring in í83, contacted me in í87 after Iíd left Ring, and offered me a position where I would work for him on a retainer fee at Boxing Illustrated. In other words I wouldnít have to come into the office. Iíd work on my own, which I found palatable at that point, and I accepted.
KD -- Why did you leave The Ring?
HG -- I was thinking of leaving it for some time. It was a tremendous grind, you understand. It was going nowhere and it was in danger of folding. It had almost folded several times prior to that.
KD -- Was Randy Gordon still there?
HG--No. Gordon had been fired in í84. Iíd been thinking about leaving for some time. I indicated I was going to go. They brought in Phill Marder and I left. I was simply told at that point that would be it. So I went on retainer to Boxing Illustrated. I had already sold the Jolson book at that point to Oxford. And Oxford wanted me to continue doing more books for them.
KD -- Thatís Oxford University Press, a respectable publisher.
HG -- Yes, they gave me an advance for Fanny Brice. And between that and Boxing Illustrated that became my life for the next several years.
KD -- And "Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl" came out in 1992.
HG -- Yes. And after that I began work on a book on Eddie Cantor called "Banjo Eyes" and that was published a few years ago in í97.
In 1994 Bert Sugar went into a sort of partnership arrangement with Mr. John Ledes. And Mr. Sugar defaulted business-wise and lost title to the magazine. Mr. Ledes took it over and Mr. Sugar remained as Editor in Chief for some months after that but there were growing differencesÖAnyway, I was summarily appointed editor in 1995.
And I had, I have to confess, some misgivings about this. Among which was the fact I was frankly not crazy about returning to boxing journalism on a full-time basis. I felt it was getting into the same grind. Even though I still loved boxing, I continue to love boxing, I really wanted a different life at that point. And I was working toward it. I established a business in Ö. Well Iíd had the idea for it in í93. In í94 I incorporated.
KD -- Is that the American Theater Network? What is it?
HG -- Itís a television network and we have a unique format and concept. And itís something I continue to be involved with. But where that goes, if any place, Ö..Itís something I still believe in, letís put it that way.
Anyway I was involved in working on that and trying to get that launched. And in the meantime I was now editor of Boxing Illustrated. I did have definite ideas about what a boxing magazine should be. What it should contain. And I made Boxing Illustrated , I think, into a very good trade fight magazine, very informationally-oriented, very much for the more sophisticated boxing fan. The publisher initially liked what I was doing. He made it an all-color magazine. I continued editing that magazine for about a three and a half year period. I left as editor-in-chief early in 1999. Since that time Iíve returned to being a free-lance author. I was contributing to the magazine until fairly recently. Now Iím busy with this reference book. Thatís basically my story. Thereís a lot more to it, of course but thatís the gist of it.
THE BOXING HALL OF FAME -- HOW IT WORKS
KD -- I think you are also involved with the Boxing Hall of Fame?
HG -- Yes, Iím Nominations Chairman for the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canestota, New York.
KD -- How are the nominations made?
HG -- Well, thereís a nominations committee. Iím chairman. The other members of the committee currently are Mr. Donald Majesky and Mr. Hank Kaplan of Florida. There are five categories now: Modern, Old Timer, Pioneeróthatís the old bare-knucklers, Non-Participant, and Observersóthatís for the media.
In each category a certain number of men have been elected each year. And what we do is, we replenish that number. For instance if four men are elected in the Modern category, we put four new men into the category for the next ballot. We do this on a very fair basis, I must say. We have a pool of men we are considering. We debate. We each have our men we are pushing. We compromise. We talk extensively about this. Increasingly more and more time is spent doing this. I think we spent more time on this last ballot than I remember spending on ballots for the ten years prior to that combined. Of course it was the first year for the Observers, too, but a lot of time went into this last yearís ballot. Weíre very strict about who goes on the ballot and who does not.
KD -- Can you give us a notion of what criteria youíre looking for?
HG -- Weíre looking for accomplishment. We try not to put a man on the ballot simply because he may be popular in certain circles, because there may be demands from certain circles. We donít ignore suggestions at all but I have to confess we take them with a grain of salt. We debate and research each individual man or woman as the case might be. We figure out exactly what his or her accomplishments were. Were they of historical importance? Thatís a very important criteria. In some cases, in the non-participants category, we put certain people on because they seem to represent a certain fieldólike Charlie Mathieson for boxing judges, Fred Abbiello for time keepers. But for the most part, especially for non-participants, were they historically important? Were they movers and shakers? This is not the WNCA Good Guy Award. This is why Mr. Don King was put on the ballot. There was a lot of criticism when he was elected. I know that. But you canít deny the manís import. Is Don King one of the most important boxing promoters of all time? Frankly there is no way that he is not. So however one may feel about Mr. King he went on the ballot. We just instituted the Observers category, and the first electees were Lester Bromberg, Ralph Citro and Bill Gallo. Mr. Gallo was President of the Boxing Writersí Association in different years. Heís certainly one of the most popular sports journalists in the country and has been for some years now. The late Mr. Bromberg covered the fight game extensively for many, many years, was so knee-deep in the business and happenings of boxing that he was probably one of the last of the real day-to-day information diggers among the boxing journalists. And of course Ralph Citro founded the record-keeping service which publishes the annual book now, and is now known as Fight Fax. So they each have their own bailiwick. But the Boxing Hall of Fame nominations are something which we spend increasingly, a good deal of time on. Itís a good deal of work.
KD -- Once the nominees are designated and the ballot is created, whatís the process?
HG -- The Hall of Fame sends out ballots to the different electors in the different categoriesóthe Modern, Old-Timer, Pioneer, Non-Participant and Observer. The Boxing Wrtiers Association make up the bulk of the electors for the Modern group. These ballots are sent out. They are appropriately marked and returned. The ballots are totalled up by an accounting firm. I personally have a vote in each category, but I just have one. So I canít say the results of each election are exactly as I would want them to be if I was just appointing electees. But I think over all itís worked. We have a Hall of Fame which is taken seriously by the boxing industry. Most of it is due to the fact that weíve been very strict in how weíve done this. When I first began there as nominations chairman I was asked, ĎShouldnít we have write-in votes?í I said NO! Because I know people in the fight game. There are a lot of alliances, there are a lot of prejudices, there are a lot favorite son nominations. I can just imagine some of the people theyíd put down on the ballots. So I said No write-in votes. I think the results speak for themselves. In June when we have the Induction Ceremonies, everybody who can possibly attend is there. Iím talking specifically about the electees. Weíve had Don King come up, Bob Arum come up, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, anybody whoís been elected is there if they can possibly be there. Weíve been hard nuts in terms of how weíve done this but I think the results speak for themselves.
WHY ROY JONES, JR?
KD -- Some of the questions put forward by the CBZ scholars come to mind at this point.Theyíve sent them to me by e-mail and Iíve printed them out and have them here. May I run a few by you?
HG -- Well, Iíll see what I can do, sure.
KD -- A couple of years ago you published your own greatest pound-for-pound list in International Boxing digest. You had Roy Jones Jr. at the top of your list. Youíve received much criticism from historians and othersótypically older folksóWhat about Jonesí abilities and accomplishments prompted you to make such a bold statement? And how do you compare greatness in boxers? And would you still put Jones up at the top?
HG -- OK. My ranking of Jones in such a dramatic fashion, had to do not with his accomplishments but simply with his skills. He has more and greater skills than any fighter Iíve ever seen in my life. The way he can hook and go immediately to a straight punch, the way he can fire shots from all angles, his domination of every opponent he faces. Iíve never seen a comparable fighter in my life. I went out on a limb in making that pronouncement at that time. I donít think I was that overboard. Now itís true that Mr. Jonesí accomplishments in terms of being in great fights, in terms of being a super-star of his period do not begin to equal his skills. Thatís the down side. Of course to make great fights it takes two to tango and Mr. Jones is so far above his competition that there are no great fights out there for him, certainly within his own weight classes. Now in terms of looking at the careers of certain fighters, certainly there are a number of men who outshone him in that respect. But I still maintain that Mr. Jones is the most skilfull, is the most over-powering man, pound-for-pound, in the history of boxing. I donít think even Sugar Ray Robinson was as dominant over his opposition as Roy Jones has been. That takes nothing away from Sugar Ray. But I have never seen a phenomenon like Roy Jones. Of course Roy Jones knows it, too. He knows what he wants, what he doesnít want. Heís a star. He wonít fight here. He will fight only here. Heís his own promoter, more or less. So heís certainly not everyonesí ideal of what a fighter should be. But in terms of skills I think heís the greatest.
NEW VS OLD
KD--What about the general quality of the new guys vs the old guys? Many fans believe that old time boxers were infinitely better than modern boxers.
HG -- Well, boxing historians are traditionally, I think, expected to favor the old-timers. Iím not of that make. I do believe that thereís been an evolution in boxing styles. You can almost trace it, in fact. I do not, for example believe that Jim Corbett would beat Joe Frazier. I do not believe that Joe Walcott or Mysterious Billy Smith would beat Tommy Hearns.
I believe that boxers definitely have evolved into better athletes. Thereís been an increase in skills, certainly in combination punching. See, in the old days the main requisite for being a fighter was that you were tough. And thereís no doubt these old time fighters were tough. But for example, if you study the films, we donít see sustained combination punching, really. George Dixon, .to break off for a moment, seems like a very skilled fighter, up on the balls of his feet. And there were, definitely, talented, skilled boxers in the old days. However, we do not see sustained combination punching until Benny Leonard, circa 1920.
There have been generations of trainers who have profited by their associations with each other. Each generation of trainers, although owing a debt to the preceding generation, has kept up with the times.
One thing I have to emphasize is the increasingly potent influence of amateur boxing on professional boxing. In the old days, say 1910ís and so forth, most fighters turned pro with no amateur experience. These kids were turned pro at 16 years of age and sometimes less. They would gather their experience as professionals. Today boxers of note gain the vast bulk of their experience in the amateurs, where you have bouts limited to three rounds, necessitating sustained action. There is no such thing as feeling-out your opponent in an amateur bout. You go out there and you throw combinations to the head, as quickly and fanatically as you can. And the emphasis is on sustained combination punching all the way through. As a result your skills improve. This has led to professional boxing of a very similar nature.
KD -- I understand that Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta, others of that period had some amateur background.
HG -- Youíre talking about the 1940ís. I mentioned the 1910ís specifically. There were amateur tournaments such as the national AAU starting in the 1880ís this country. And you had some prominent amateur boxers go into professional boxing. Jim Corbett for example. But after Corbett there was an interesting turn-around away from that again. You did have Amateur stars such as Jimmy Britt going into the pros, Augie Ratner and a few others. You had Olympic stars in the early Ď20ís, Frankie Gennaro in 1920, and in 1924 Fidel LaBarbur turning pro and becoming world champions. But basically, the vast majority of professional boxers gained their experience as pros.
The first step away from this, by and large, was the formation of the Chicago and New York Golden Gloves Tournaments in the mid 1920ís. The participants were drawn from the poor and working classes. The Golden Gloves Tournaments were used as stepping-stones to the pros. Increasingly you had kids gaining their experience in the amateurs from that point. However, The way it was done is that the kid would gain a certain number of amateur bouts, maybe he spent a year or two or maybe three in the amateurs and then turned pro.
When the kid turned pro they would bring a new trainer in to adapt him to a professional style. Get him to work the body more; teach him more about defense, about fighting in stages and so forth. This is the way it was. So he would fight so many four-rounders, six-rounders, eight-rounders, and finally they would say OK, Kid, youíre in a ten.
Now today you donít have that many professional fights. Usually youíre not going to have a kid having twenty-five or more fights before heís in a ten-round fight. The economics do not allow that. Boxing has become smaller, there are not as many fights promoted. So he has to gain his experience more and more in the amateurs. And the amateurs have become that much more important, chiefly because of the Olympics and the increased televising of the Olympics, and of course because you donít have as many pro fights.
So the kid gains his experience in the amateurs and the amateur style has crept into the pros. One thing that has encouraged this is the shortening of the distance of professional fights. For instance there are no pro fights today longer than twelve rounds. And increasingly, instead of bringing in a pro trainer to adapt kidsí style to the pros, the amateur trainer turns pro with the kid. So increasingly this amateur style of combination punching, working almost exclusively to the head, has become the pro style. And itís a style where skill has replaced stamina, smarts and guts to a very large extent. The kid who makes it to the top in the pros is an experienced amateur boxer, with great skill at combination punching.
The question is, would this prevail against a fighter of the old school? Well, letís put it this way, I believe that for the most part, this style that has evolved would really cut most of the old-timers (Iím talking about the early 1900ís) to ribbons. Because they did not have these kinds of skills. However, in a longer distance fight the old pro style of stamina, body punching, planning a fight, would of course come into greater play. A classic example of a fighter with a classic pro style beating one with a classic amateur style was Marlon Starling over Mark Breland. Starling went to the body, really forced Breland as the fight went on, weakened him. The pro style beat the amateur style in that fight. But increasingly you donít have as many fighters with the pro style as Iím defining it. And the top-flight amateurs are dominating the game. Iím talking, you know, Floyd Mayweather Jr. Very few of the top professional fighters do not have extensive amateur backgrounds with top honors gathered as amateur boxers.
I remember a terrific bantamweight of the 1980ís named Jeff Chandler. He had two to four amateur bouts. That was all. He was one of the last terrific fighters to gain most of his experience in the pros. And he was one of the last of the old guard, and a beautiful boxer to watch. But he was one of the last exceptions to that rule.
If you want to develop a fighter todayóyouíre a multi-millionaire, you want to be an independent boxing manager, and youíre serious about it, my advice is scout the top amateur tournaments including the Olympics and try to sign one of these kids. Because this is where the Champions are coming from.
KD -- So in this lightówould someone in that middle period, who many of us regard as "The Greats" the Sugar Ray Robinson, Tony Zale, LaMotta, Joe LouisÖwith their relatively professional style, how would they fare against the modern style?
HG -- Sugar Ray Robinson, without a doubt, was a great fighter and would have been a great fighter in any era. Again, he had a fairly extensive amateur background in the Golden Gloves, and was actually a very watched fighter even when he turned pro. In those days you didnít get a fight on any Garden card unless you had a number of fights before that, a good manager, and so forth. Sugar Ray Robinson turned pro on the undercard of a world title fight in Madison Square Garden. True, it was only a four rounder, but still he would not have gotten that berth had he not been a top-flight amateur.
As to the othersÖJake LaMotta, tough as can be. Joe Louis, certainly you canít deride Joe Louisí abilities, but I donít believe Louis would have beaten Ali. I donít believe Jake would have beaten Roy Jones, Jr. And Sugar Ray Robinson, again an exceptional fighter, but I donít believe he would have a piece of cake with some of these modern fighters.
But what Iím saying does not mean that every modern fighter has it all over any fighter of fifty years ago. Thatís not true. However, there has been, nonetheless, an average increase in skill. Even in the forties and fifties you had a greater percentage of fighters who relied more on guts than on anything else. Thatís not to say they had NO boxing skills, or no training. But some of them relied more on strength and courage than you have today. Also remember today they stop fights sooner.
Paul Pender made the observation that Carmen Basilio fought with his face, and after a while youíd get so worn out punching him in the face that youíd be fair game for him. Basilio had guts to burn. But he would be very pressed to beat a lot of these fighters of the last 25 years. I donít believe Carmen would do anything against Sugar Ray Leonard, for example.
And thatís not to deride Carmen Basilio, itís not to deride any of the guys from the pre 1960 era. Or the pre 1975 era. But I donít think thereís any denying that the modern boxer has an arsenal of devastating skills at his command, and relies more on these developed skills than he does on strength or courage or stamina.
SOME OF THE BEST MODERNS
KD -- We discussed your controversial stance that Roy Jones Jr is one of the greatest boxers of all time. Would you care to mention any other of todayís fighters who you consider to be among the best?
HG -- I donít think thereís any denying Naseem Hamed. Now hereís a small featherweight, when you look at him. Heís 5í3. He was European bantamweight champion. I think if he moved up to Jr. Light or Lightweight, heíd be very hard pressed because of his size. I would never put him in with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. I think Mayweather would justÖunh! Would really knock him flat and give him a terrific beating. But at featherweight I donít see anyone today capable of beating Naseem Hamed.
Fighters of today develop tremendous reflexes, they learn to punch from all angles. This is the new style. Itís replaced even the Muhammad Ali move-and-jab style. Itís not just Hamed, itís the same basic style you see from Roy Jones, Jr. Ėshooting these punches from nowhere. The way Roy Jones can turn a straight jab into a hook is something Iíve never seen any fighter do. When I was watching boxing as a kid I used to imagine fighters who could do that, but I never saw anybody do it until I saw Roy Jones. I think thatís part of my fascination with the man. This is a new development. By the way, one fighter of the old days who really, to a large extent, fought like that, was Jimmy Wild, the greatest flyweight of all time. I mean traditionally regarded as such, a Welshman active from 1911 to 1923.
Oh Floyd Mayweather, Jr. My god! Ability like nobodyís business.
Another man-- a shame whatís happened to him, and Iíd say the only man who could have beaten him eventually did beat him, and that was himselfóMike Tyson. Now Mike Tysonís styleótalking about a boxer learning from boxers of the pastóand itís amazing that more has not been made of this. Mike Tysonís style is Jack Dempsey, completely. The way he comes in quickly with a bob and weave, ducks down low and comes up with a smashing left hook to the larger manís head and face, thatís Jack Dempsey. When Tyson turned pro he even came into the ring with the sides of his head shaven in emulation of Jack Dempsey. There is no doubt about this. No socks, low shoes, black trunks. This was a young man who studied old fight films like crazy. And he found that the style of Jack Dempsey was more conducive to his own abilities than any other style. And thatís what he developed.
KD -- I always felt that Tyson was a small heavyweight and he was often misunderstood and under-rated in terms of the level of genuine skill that he brought into the ring.
HG -- Thatís right. A lot of people did not understand what they were watching when they saw Mike Tyson. He was not some slugger as such.
KD -- He was not a super-power in terms of his physical strength
HG -- Oh no. One thing about Mike Tyson that I donít think a lot of people understand because of, letís say his psychological-social problems, a lot of people think heís some kind of stupid brute. Heís not. He happens to be, as far as I can see-- and I donít know the man but I have had a couple of conversations with him-- an intelligent young man. Heís probably one of the most intelligent fighters, certainly in terms of boxing, that weíve seen. His emulation of the Jack Dempseyís style. His knowledge of boxing history is considerable, by the way, and when you listen to him, this is not a stupid man. Heís a very misunderstood boxer, and people also do not understand that his skills eroded after a certain period. People will say Ah he was never anything,. They start to question him all the way back. No. He peaked when he knocked out Michael Spinks in the first round. But beginning about a year after that he really started to go down hill.
KD -- That was a period when he had separated from Rooney, his remaining DíAmato trainer, and he no longer had a real trainer who understood his style.
HG -- Right. Tyson was a fighter who needed a certain edge. He needed to be on edge. And when he lost that he lost a tremendous amount. He still has too much power and over-all ability for ninety or ninety-five percent of all the fighters out there. Thereís no question about that. But at his peak I canít imagineóand I say this with all respect and deference for Evander Holyfieldóbut at his peak I canít imagine Tyson being defeated by Holyfield. At his peak he would have been a terrific fight even for the peak Muhammad Ali.
KD -- Whatís your opinion of Zab Judah, who is a great favorite of the New York writers?
HG -- I think again, a very very skilled young man. One of the things is, if you play basketball or box with athletes who are decidedly inferior to you, your skills do not increase as much as if you play or box with better athletes. So if you notice the last year or so heís been fighting better men so he hasnít seemed quite as dominant. But overall I think heís better for it. Itís just a shame he wasnít fighting those guys say a year or two before that. But heís a very skillful fighter. A lot of talent. One of the best overall fighters of the last ten years, I d say.
KD -- What do you think about Kostya Tzyu, since weíre in that weight range?
HG -- Tough, hard hitter. And heíll beat everyone with the exception of the really great, great fighters of today. He just misses at a level where youíre able to call him one of the greatest. Heís not there. But heís very solid and on a level just below that.
KD -- So who will beat Kostya Tzyu?
HG -- I canít see him getting any kind of a look-in with a guy like Shane Mosley. Luckily for him heís come along at a time when the Jr. welter division is not as laden with talent as it was a while ago. I donít think he would beat Zab Judah. Let me put it to you like that. Again, thatís if Zab Judah is in peak form.
KD -- A little more polished than he is right now.
HG -- Yes, I would say that. Hopefully, from Zab Judahís viewpoint, heís improved from the tougher fights heís had in the past year. But I give all credit to Kostya Tzyu. Since he got stopped by Vincent Phillips heís become a better fighter. Heís tough, he punches fast, he punches hard. Heís one of those guys whoÖ.you know a lot of guys go along, theyíre winning, theyíre winning, all of a sudden they get knocked out and thatís IT. They fall apart. He is a guy who got knocked out and who came back and became a better fighter for it.
KD -- in one interview he said that the Vince Phillips fight taught him a major lesson which was to go back and use many of the amateur skills that he had developed during his outstanding amateur career in Russia. He said heíd abandoned those things for the joys of entertaining the crowd with a three-fisted kind of Carmen Basilio style.
HG -- Thatís right. This is the point I make about the skills developed in the amateur ranks being so important today, especially when the fights are no more than twelve rounds.
THE GREAT LIGHT-HEAVYWEIGHT DEBATE KD -- Hereís a question from a scholar who writes, "I would like to know whether Mr. Goldman continues to view Joe Choynsky and Kid McCoy as the first two light-heavyweight champions.
HG -- Yes I do. Thereís no doubt that Choynsky engaged in billed title fights for the world light-heavyweight championship in 1899. Thatís been proven by newspaper research. It was not just one fight, actually there were three fights with that billing that he engaged in. Then in January of 1900 he faced Kid McCoy at the Broadway A.C. in New York. It was a rather controversial fight. He really knocked out McCoy in round 2 , and it ended with McCoy TKO winner in 4. At that point Mr. Choynskyís title career as a light heavyweight championship vanishes.
Now Kid McCoy notoriously skipped around divisions like crazy. He wanted to be heavyweight champion of the world and titles outside of that meant very little to him. He was middleweight champion at one point but this fact was lost to boxing historians for many years because he just did not pursue defending it.
The light heavyweight championship was a similar case in point for McCoy. Nonetheless, in 1903 he enters the ring in a billed light heavyweight championship fight, facing Jack Root. Root won that fight on points. It was held in the Light Guard Armory in Detroit. Root was managed by the man who had started the division in 1903. He was the sports editor of the Chicago Inter-Ocean. At that point Root becomes champion. Root then lost it in his first defense to George Gardner. For many years thereafter the Post and Everlast books regarded the first light-heavyweight champion not as Root or Kid McCoy or Joe Choynski, but as Gardner.
Years later Root started to press his claim as first light-heavyweight champion. He had made a good deal of money in the motion picture exhibition business. Frequently on his annual trips to Europe he would make stops in at the Ring office and got very friendly with a number of the men who were prominent on the staff, including Fleischer. The Ring Record Book of 1943 listed Root as the first light heavyweight champion and this has continued on ever since. Root was certainly engaged in promoting himself this way. It seems obvious to me he was giving his own version of boxing history to Mr. Fleischer.
This idea that he was the first widely accepted world light heavyweight champion is really erroneous. Frankly, in research I find he did not have much more recognition, if any, than Choynsky did. Which is why he was not recognized in these record compilations of Post and Everlast for many years thereafter. Iím coming from a privileged position regarding all this because I worked at Ring and I know what transpired there. Iíve spoken to people who remember Jack Root. He did have access because of his longevity and his position. I think he had, to a certain extent, undue influence.
So with whatís come to light I believe that regarding Joe Choynsky as the first champion of the division is fully justified. I donít think that Mr. Root had any more recognition, I repeat, than he did. I think the evidence is incontrovertible. It goes against the grain of tradition. I know boxing people are very conservative in many respects. But based upon what I know about Jack Root and what Iíve seen about Mr. Choynskyís title fights, I think thereís no doubt even though Mr. Choynsky did not press his claim in later years because the light heavyweight division was so lightly regarded. And Mr. Choynsky was a more celebrated fighter in other respects than Root was. I think thatís why Mr. Choynsky did not press his claim and I think thatís why Root did. That was Jack Root's only big claim to fame. So with all this I give my support to Mr. Choynsky as the first light heavyweight champion.
THE MOB KD -- One of the on-going fascinations of fight people and fans is the involvement of what is commonly referred to as "The Mob" in boxing in the 30ís through the 50ís. Several people wrote in asking for your impressions of that period and any comments you might have on the impact of that period. One in particular mentioned the book by Nick Tosches called "The Devil and Sonny Liston." I wonder if youíve read that and have any impressions of Toschesí take on the matter.
H-- Yes. Itís a very interestingly written book. The influence of the so-called mob in boxing. Well, if you go back into the beginnings of Queensbury boxing, gambling was always a big interest in the fight game. Boxing was, in fact, run for the gambler. This is why the No Decision rule was put in in a number of states. It was to discourage gambling and the corruption of ring officials. In the 1930ís money was very tight. This country was going through the so-called "Great Depression." Consequently the influence of many so-called mobsters increased. A lot of them had money they had made during Prohibition. Boxing being viewed as a macho thing, many men in this category have always had an interest in the fight game. There were certain fighters who were known to be managed by mobsters or their fronts. Without going into names right now there were allegations of fixed fights. There were commission investigations, and the like.
Then of course in the Post World War II period, with the formation of the IBC, mob control of boxing reached an all-time high. Jim Norris, the multi-multi millionaire who was in back of the International Boxing Club, which was an organization that controlled both arenas and the promotion of fights, and through Mr. Norrisí associate Frank Carbo, indirectly controlled many fighters. Thereís no doubt that this was the peak of this influence. Mr. Norris was fascinated by men in the mob. There were a number of men who were like this. And also because of TV commitments and the necessity of procuring the services of certain fighters, almost on demand, he found himself increasingly relying on his friend Mr. Carbo. Mr. Carbo and his associate Frank "Blinky" Palermo controlled a good many fighters. Who they didnít control directly, they indirectly controlled through pressuring other managers and so forth. Through the Boxing Managers Guild, which became a very controversial operation at that point. Thereís no doubt boxing in the 50ís was in many respects the domain of the gangster. Thatís not to say every fight was fixed. Fixed fights were few and far between, as they have always been. But certainly this was the height of under-world influence on the fight game.
Since that time I think itís less now than itís ever been. Boxing historians are supposed to be champions of the good old days, I think.. But in terms of actual mob influence of the fight game itís less now than it ever was. Thatís not to say that everything about the fight game today is good or the way it should be. But the days of actual mob control really ended in the early 60ís.
KD -- what brought about their lessening interest or involvement?
HG -- Well, for one thing the government stepped in. Carbo and Palermo were given long prison sentences. The IBC was ordered effectively disbanded. And then you had the emergence of Muhammad Ali, who had his own ways of doing things, who he wanted to be handled by. You had the emergence of the syndicate of Louisville businessmen who backed Ali in the beginning. Frazier had a similar arrangement in Philadelphia. It was a new day, a new era. Also today there is simply not enough money, gambling-wise, to equal the purses that these fighters are getting today, in terms of what they might conceivably be offered in bribe money, letís say. And fights that donít involve these big purses arenít worth fixing.
Also the boxing manager, as such, has almost been phased out, because thereís not enough work. There arenít enough promoters and fight cards for a fight manager to bargain with fight promoters about. There are fewer promoters today than there ever were before. And they call the shots. So the only way to move a fighter effectively today is to have him go under promotional contract to one of these big promoters. As a result the old time boxing manager is just about gone. To a large extent the promoter is the manager, whether he is in name or not. Whatever one may allege about the background of Mr. King, the actual mob control of boxing is minimal if itís there at all today.
THE WAY IT GOES NOW
KD -- Who ran boxing better? The mob? Or the current bozos?
HG -- (laughs) Well, letís say this. However boxing is run, like any other business or sport, itís very much influenced by the era in which it exists. Itís influenced by things like TV , by economics. Itís influenced by more than the actual men who run it. Certainly today it is a sport which is no longer main stream as football, baseball and basketball now are. Itís a sport that exists largely on pay television. I think the fight game is going to get even smaller. Recent legislation has not been favorable to the small time promoter anyway.
KD -- Are you referring to the Federal legislation? The two McCain laws?
HG-- Yes. However well intentioned these acts are, and I think they contain a lot that is very valuable and good, they do make it more difficult for the small time promoter to operate. So I think weíre going to see more of a disappearance of the small time promoter. Weíll see the concentration of boxing in the hands of a comparative few. Itís almost impossible today to run a fight promotion profitably without television. In terms of making any appreciable money it has to be pay TV. And in terms of making really big money it has to be Pay Per View. Although certainly some fighters under contract to Showtime or HBO have made very good money, in fact really big money, just on the regular telecasts.
But TV, particularly pay TV, is where itís at right now. Also, effectively, to stage a boxing show, casinos and casino-hotels have been for a quarter of a century now, the way to go. They can put the show on, they have the facilities to do it, they can subsidize the promotion. It is the way for a promoter to go. In fact today a promoter doesnít have to worry about selling tickets to a fight. He just has the fighter or the champion under a promotional contract, he signs the challenger, he solidifies his arrangements with a TV company, he sells two-thirds of the gate to a casino-hotel, and he just sits back and watches the money come in.
KD -- By and large even club shows have become exclusively the province of smaller casinosóthe Indian casinos on reservations throughout the country.
HG-- Yeah. Itís almost ÖItís very hard to stage a show any other way without taking a bath financially. And to make money you have to have that, I think, AND TV.
So in terms of influence Iíd say economics and television have been the two greatest influences, not the actual individuals involved. Itís a sport which has, to a certain extent, become marginalized. Itís gone the way it had to go. Itís a sport thatís undergone a lot of change. Iíd say the current era dates really from the mid-70ís. It was there that you had ((As mentioned earlier in the discussion of the Ring magazine/ABC network Tournament Scandal of 1977)) ÖJose Suleiman became the president of the WBC. Thatís when you had the real emergence of the sanctioning bodies in a major way. It was the beginning of casino-hotel subsidized boxing beginning in í76 with the George Foreman-Ron Lyle bout at Ceasarsí Palace. You had the beginnings of the multiplicity of weight divisions you have right now. The current era still basically dates from the mid-1970ís. The only difference being that in the last ten years youíve had the dramatic growth of Pay-Per-View.
KD -- Weíre talking about, in some cases, hundreds of millions of dollars of gross from pay-per-view bouts, even though thatís a restricted forum perhaps thereís more money in boxing than ever for those few organizations involved.
HG -- Thereís no doubt. The big fighters today make more money than any fighters of the past did, even if inflation is figured in, by far. Weíre living in an era where, as far as entertainment and sports are concerned, the small time pro is an oxymoron. The business is getting smaller in terms of the number of individuals who make a real living in it. But for a handful of fighters, promoters, trainers and the like, the money is there like itís never been before.
THE FUTURE OF THE SPORT
KD -- Do you have any view or vision of what the future of boxing might be?
HG-- Yes. I think itís going to get smaller. I think the current trend of the star fighters coming from the Olympics and other major amateur breeding grounds is going to continue. The idea of a guy starting in the four-round class with very little amateur experience and fighting his way up under the direction of a savvy manager is gone.
I think youíre going to have men fighting for world championships after fewer and fewer bouts. Weíve seen this in the past. I think this trend is going to continue.
I think fewer men are going to be turning pro. Weíve seen this in the past few decades in the U.S. anyway.
I do see, eventually, and now Iím going to be criticized about this like crazy, but Iím not advocating it, I simply see this as happening. I can see world title fights being cut down further from twelve rounds to ten. This will expedite these amateurs going from three rounds to six, to eight, to ten, in a few fights. All it needs is one major impetus and youíll see a major movement towards this. It has been discussed already Iíve been told in some major sanctioning bodies.
KD -- Would there be an economic incentive for that?
HG -- Well, the twelve-round format seems to fit well into TV but then again you donít have the one-hour time format in pay-per-view and even pay TV that you did on network TV. Nonetheless, itís not only a question of fitting a fight into a certain time slot. Thereís another factor to consider. Peopleís attention spans are not what they once were. We donít have the patience to sit through interminable numbers of rounds. We like our entertainment to come at us, present itself and to leave. We want sustained action. And youíre going to have more of this certainly in bouts of shorter duration. So I think thatís another major influence that will eventually bring about the ten-round Championship distance.
KD -- Iíve heard discussion in some limited circles of shortening the professional round to two minutes -- this in response to the 2 minute rounds that women fight in which they say there is more sustained action because of the shorter round.
HG -- Well, you know, in Britain two-minute rounds were very common in preliminary bouts. In fact you still have them there to a certain extent. They would bill fights for fifteen three-minute rounds or ten two-minute rounds and the like. Theyíve gotten away from this in recent years but itís been a feature of British boxing since time immemorial, I think. Nonetheless, yes, itís become more common in the U.S. with womenís bouts. Of course in the novice categories of amateur boxing you have the two-minute rounds. I donít know that itís going to make incursions among the male professionals, but you have to look at it as one other possible solution to the demand for more sustained action in a lesser amount of time.
KD -- Well, Mr Goldman Iíve taken a lot of your time this morning and I appreciate your willingness to discuss all of these strange topics. Is there anything you would like to comment on or to say before we hang it up?
HG -- Boxing has a greater and more profound lore than, I think, any other sport. For the most part this has not been set down in book form, but it is certainly out there. It is viewed as a passe entertainment, sport, by many people. It certainly does belong to pre-World War II eras in this country. It nonetheless sustains itself, sometimes to the amazement even of people in the business. Itís been said that as long as men have fists and a heart they will admire the boxing champion. We have had, of course, long stretches of history when there has been no boxing. I hope boxing does continue. I hope it flourishes. I look forward to many, many more years of viewing boxing as a fan, and continuing to be fascinated by it as a historian. My great thanks to everyone who actively sustains boxing, and that certainly includes all the fans.